Magical Things: on Fetishes, Commodities, and Computers

Peter J. Pels

in The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies

Published in print September 2010 | ISBN: 9780199218714
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology

Magical Things: on Fetishes, Commodities, and Computers

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  • Archaeology
  • History and Theory of Archaeology



This article focuses on the concepts of magical things followed by fetishes, commodities, and then the modern world of computers. When do things become magical is a vital question which this article tries to answer. This article discusses the magical elements associated with various objects that we come across in our daily lives. It also focuses on the problematic aspect associated with magic and fetish. The understanding reached by the impossibility of the fetish can be extended to our own everyday lives by zooming in on the magic of the commodity — to show that a certain fear of the object that behaves as a subject is both affirmed as well as denied in consumer society. The last part of this article shows through a reflection on the early popularization of the computer how the modern problematic of magical things plays out even in contexts where people embrace rather than fear the autonomously acting object.

Keywords: magic; magical things; fetish; magical elements; consumer society

Article.  8612 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; History and Theory of Archaeology

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